Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency

David Remnick, writing for The New Yorker:

And Obama related the Party’s losses this year to previous setbacks—and recoveries. “Some of my staff are really young, so they don’t remember this,” Obama said. “They remember my speech from the Boston Convention, in 2004, because they uploaded it on YouTube or something, but they might have been fifteen when it happened. Well, that’s the election that John Kerry lost. George Bush was reëlected. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, was defeated. The Senate went Republican. The House was Republican. Me and Ken Salazar, of Colorado, were the only two Democrats nationally who won. It was a very similar period to where we are right now. Two years later, Democrats had won back the Senate; I think they had won back the House. And four years later I was the President of the United States.

“So this notion somehow that these irreversible tides have been unleashed, I think, surrenders our agency. It’s easier than us saying, Huh, we missed that, we messed that up, we’ve got to do better in how we organize. We have to stop relying on a narrow targeting of our base turnout strategy if we want to govern. . . . Setting aside the results of this election, Democrats are well positioned to keep winning Presidential elections just by appealing to the base. And, each year, the demographic improves.”

To put it more bluntly than Obama did, the nonwhite percentage of the population will continue to increase. “But we’ll keep on getting gridlock just because of population distribution in this country,” he went on. “As long as California and Wyoming have the same number of senators, there’s going to be a problem—unless we’re able to have a broader conversation and move people who right now aren’t voting for progressive policies and candidates. . . . All of this requires vigilance in protecting gains we’ve made, but a sense, yes, of equanimity, a sense of purposeful calm and optimism, and a sense of humor—sometimes gallows humor after results like the ones we just had. That’s how ultimately the race is won.”

It’s going to take you 45 minutes to read this piece—I saved it specifically for today, Sunday, so that I knew I would have the time—but reading it is the best I’ve felt post-election.


The American Thanksgiving

Sam Sifton, writing for The New York Times:

Americans all come from somewhere. Their families may have roamed the continent for thousands of years before the Mayflower dropped anchor. They may have been on the ship. They may have come on later ones, freely or in chains. They may have come by truck, train or airplane. They came. And their journeys are reflected in the food they or their descendants eat. The Times asked 15 families from across the country to show us the holiday dishes they make that speak most eloquently about their heritage and traditions. The stories of these home cooks help tell the story of the nation, the story of who we are.

This piece—the videos and the pictures and the recipes and the families—is a pitch-perfect representation of what makes America so unique, and because of that, so great.

Question the agenda of anyone who tries to convince you otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


When a Populist Demagogue Takes Power

Adrian Chen, writing for The New Yorker:

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos, a young provincial senator, won the Presidency of the Philippines with the pledge “This nation can be great again.” Marcos appeared to have the will necessary to reduce the influence of the colonial élite. He was viewed as a technocrat, but he merely replaced the old oligarchy with his own friends and relatives, including his glamorous wife, Imelda. Over time, his family amassed a fortune of up to ten billion dollars. In 1972, during his second term, Marcos declared martial law, citing Communist and Muslim insurgencies. Marcos’s closest advisers, who were known as the Rolex 12, for the wristwatches that he supposedly gave them, rounded up and tortured the regime’s political rivals.

Sound familiar?


Bryant Park: A Memoir

Hilary Mantel, writing for The New Yorker:

There are some women who, the moment they have conceived a child, are aware of it—just as you sense if you’re being watched or followed. I have never had a child, but once in my life, a long time back and for a single day, I thought I was pregnant. I was twenty-three years old, three years a wife. I had no plans at that stage for a child. But my predictable cycle had gone askew, and one morning I felt as if some activity had commenced behind my ribs. It wasn’t breathing, or digestion, or the thudding of my heart.

I’ll be honest—I’m growing a bit numb to reading what is essentially the same alarmist, predictive article that those opposed to a Trump presidency have been writing as of late. And so I approached this collection of “sixteen writers on Trump’s America” with trepidation, literary firepower notwithstanding. Mantel’s piece takes a different approach, though, and because of that, it becomes something pretty special.


J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America

Sarah Jones, writing for The New Republic:

Set aside the anti-government bromides that could have been ripped from a random page of National Review, where Vance is a regular contributor. There is a more sinister thesis at work here, one that dovetails with many liberal views of Appalachia and its problems. Vance assures readers that an emphasis on Appalachia’s economic insecurity is “incomplete” without a critical examination of its culture. His great takeaway from life in America’s underclass is: Pull up those bootstraps. Don’t question elites. Don’t ask if they erred by granting people mortgages and lines of credit they couldn’t afford to repay. Don’t call it what it is—corporate deception—or admit that it plunged this country into one of the worst economic crises it’s ever experienced.

No wonder Peter Thiel, the almost comically evil Silicon Valley libertarian, endorsed the book. (Vance also works for Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management.) The question is why so many liberals are doing the same.

I’ve been one of those liberals, pushing this book and some of the ideologies within it. I think this piece may flatten out the depth a bit, but I felt it necessary to post it, since it is one of the few on-the-contrary piece I’ve seen about what has otherwise been a universally praised book.

I think one of the reasons liberals have flocked to it is because it’s written in a “language” people unfamiliar with the terrain can understand, while acting as a door into that terrain, and because of that, I still think it is worthy of reading.


There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter

Jamelle Bouie, writing for Slate:

It’s worth repeating what Trump said throughout the election. His campaign indulged in hateful rhetoric against Hispanics and condemned Muslim Americans with the collective guilt of anyone who would commit terror. It treated black America as a lawless dystopia and spoke of black Americans as dupes and fools. And to his supporters, Trump promised mass deportations, a ban on Muslim entry to the United States, and strict “law and order” as applied to those black communities. Trump is now president-elect. Judging from his choices for the transition—figures like immigration hardliner Kris Kobach and white nationalist Stephen Bannon—it’s clear he plans to deliver on those promises.

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency.

Since the day after the election, I’ve been, for the most, pushing an ideology that mostly resembles what Bouie dismantles here. I was familiar with his argument/this argument; he made it already on, I believe, Slate’s Trumpcast podcast. I understand what he’s saying and while I don’t think he’s wrong, I don’t think he’s giving enough credence to compartmentalization, and just how far some people will go, or feel they have to go. Again though, as I’ve been quick to point out, my station in life allows me the latitude to worry about compartmentilization. Others don’t have that luxury.

Before the election, many wondered out loud about where the vitriol Trump had released in a certain class of Americans would go after the election. They assumed a Trump defeat. Now that Trump has won, I think it’s still a major question to grapple with.


Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

Sheri Fink, writing for The New York Times:

In recent interviews, more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted at Guantánamo provided the most detailed account to date of mental health care there. Almost from the start, the shadow of interrogation and mutual suspicion tainted the mission of those treating prisoners. That limited their effectiveness for years to come.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and technicians received little training for the assignment and, they said, felt unprepared to tend to men they were told were “the worst of the worst.” Doctors felt pushed to cross ethical boundaries, and were warned that their actions, at an institution roiled by detainees’ organized resistance, could have political and national security implications.

Rotations lasted only three to nine months, making it difficult to establish rapport. In a field that requires intimacy, the psychiatrists and their teams long used pseudonyms like Major Psych, Dr. Crocodile, Superman and Big Momma, and referred to patients by serial numbers, not names. They frequently had to speak through fences or slits in cell doors, using interpreters who also worked with interrogators.

Wary patients often declined to talk to the mental health teams. (“Detainee refused to interact,” medical records note repeatedly.) At a place so shrouded in secrecy that for years any information learned from a detainee was to be treated as classified, what went on in interrogations “was completely restricted territory,” said Karen Thurman, a Navy commander, now retired, who served as a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Guantánamo. “‘How did it go?’” Or “‘Did they hit you?’ We were not allowed to ask that,” she said.

Dr. Rosecrans said she held back on such questions when she was there in 2004, not suspecting abuse and feeling constrained by the prison environment. “From a surgical perspective, you never open up a wound you cannot close,” she said. “Unless you have months, years, to help this person and help them get out of this hole, why would you ever do this?”

Remember this piece when Donald Trump again calls for the return of torture, including waterboarding and “much worse.”


An American in a Strange Land

Jim Yardley, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

Then I moved to Rome and watched the European Union grow ineffective and paralyzed, as the dream of a vibrant, unified Europe seemed to wither. Democracy was losing ground in Hungary and the Philippines; it had all but surrendered in Russia. Syria became a slaughterhouse. The Islamic State dispatched terrorists around the world. China’s politics became more oppressive, as President Xi Jinping cracked down on dissent and nurtured a Maoist-style cult of personality. Economic globalization was supposed to accelerate political liberalization around the world, but instead authoritarianism appeared to be on the rise. The West, it seemed, had failed to anticipate the possibility that globalization could contribute to the destabilization of — or pose a threat to — democracy, even in the United States.

This summer, I decided I wanted to explore this place that had become a foreign country to me. I didn’t understand what had happened since I left, why so many people seemed so disillusioned and angry. I planned a zigzag route, revisiting places where I once lived or worked, a 29-day sprint through 11 states (and four time zones). I knew I would be moving too fast to make any sweeping declaration about the state of America, and I wouldn’t ask people which presidential candidate they were voting for. I was more interested in why they were so anxious about the present and the future. I wanted to find out why the country was fragmenting rather than binding together. Most of all I wanted to see with my own eyes what had changed — and so much had changed.

I won’t lie—the final quote of this piece has stuck with me. I don’t necessarily agree with it—but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve severely misjudged just how many people do.